Neuroscientist Claims In A New Book That Humans Don’t Actually Have Free Will
by Trisha Leigh
Human beings like to believe that we have free will – even if we also like to believe in destiny. It’s deep in our bones to want to think that everyone has some type of control over the type of life they lead and how things turn out.
Scientists, though, are claiming that’s a bunch of hogwash.
At least, that’s what 66-year-old neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky says.
Sapolsky is a MacArthur “genius” grant recipient who has been studying human and primate behavior for over four decades. He recently wrote a book based on his research called Determined: Life Without Free Will, and in it, dismantled the major arguments in favor of free will.
He claims that, instead of free will, biology determines our choices and trajectory – with strong influence from things like our upbringing, circumstances, and life’s curveballs.
“The world is really screwed up and made much, much more unfair by the fact that we reward people and punish people for things that they have no control over. We’ve got no free will. Stop attributing stuff to us that isn’t there.”
He says that everything, down to the smallest “decision,” is predetermined.
“For that sort of free will to exist, it would have to function on a biological level completely independently of the history of that organism. You would be able to identify the neurons that caused a particular behavior, and it wouldn’t matter what any other neuron in the brain was doing, what the environment was, what the person’s hormone levels were, what culture they were brought up in.”
That said, those choices do matter.
“At any meaningful juncture, we’re making decisions based on our tastes and predilections and values and character.”
Others, like neuroscientist Peter U. Tse, heartily disagree.
“Those who push the idea that we are nothing but deterministic biochemical puppets are responsible for enhancing psychological suffering and hopelessness in this world.”
That said, Sapolsky believes his research would allow people to be happier overall.
“It is logically indefensible, ludicrous, meaningless to believe that something ‘good’ can happen to a machine. Nonetheless, I am certain that it is good if people feel less pain and more happiness.”
Whatever you believe, that should be the takeaway.
Good luck getting things to break your way.